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Learning the Language of Emotion

One thing I see a lot in those who are new to yoga or embodiment practices is the feeling that they ‘aren’t getting it right’ or ‘just don’t get it’. I often ask my students to allow whatever emotion they are feeling to just be present in them, to let it rise to the surface and to sit with it, as long as it feels safe and okay. There is a massive spectrum of experiences that students tend to have when given this invitation. 

  • Some people LOVE this offering, and feel a massive sense of relief at being able to connect to themselves when they might often ignore their feelings. It might be pleasurable and joyous, intense, but loving. 

  • Some people find this a little overwhelming, unable to decipher their emotions or uncomfortable with feeling them.

  • Some people intellectualise, focusing on if they are feeling the ‘right’ thing. 

  • Some people feel nothing at all, and are confused at how they could. 

Learning the language of your body and its emotion, and the way that your emotional landscape changes throughout your days and weeks, is exactly that - learning a language. 

Walk into the forest as someone who knows nothing about plants, and it might all just look green. Spend time learning the native plants, berries and mushrooms, the relationships between them and the seasons of nature, then you walk into the forest and it comes alive. You speak the language of the forest and you can pick out what is what, each species’ properties, colours, and textures. You’ve created a relationship. 

Listen to birdsong as a novice and you might not notice much, just that it sounded like bird song, that it was pretty, or perhaps you might not have noticed it at all without a nudge. Spend time learning the language of birds, and you might be able to describe the structure of the song, whether it is a trill or a whistle, its tune, notice the pauses and its pitch, and be able to identify the bird producing it. 

Our emotions and bodies are like birdsong; there are endless experiences to notice, but if you have just begun listening, it might just sound like noise, or you might not notice at all. 

The point I’m trying to make here: give yourself time. Learning new languages or skills doesn’t come quickly or easily, but even if you don’t feel it, you are building the skills every time you practise. 

Eventually, as you start to learn the language of your body and its emotion, you’ll be able to decipher your own birdsong, to notice what you’re feeling when you’re feeling it. And the more you do this, the more you’ll notice. Your emotions will feel heard, and make themselves known more. 

If this all sounds hard and pointless, a quick reminder - everything we do comes back to our emotions. If you want a sure-fire way to improve your relationships to others and yourself, your general mood on a day to day basis, and even your lifespan, work on your emotional wellbeing. 

One practice you can do right now: 

Take a few deep breaths, all the way down into your belly.

  1. Notice any emotions that rise to the surface, or that might already be present. Don’t force it, just let it happen. If nothing comes up, that’s okay - that is also an emotional experience, you can welcome the numbness if it is present. You don’t have to name the emotion. It might really obviously be frustration, concern, peace or ease, but it might also not have a name. Just let whatever it is, be there.

  2. Notice any sensations in your body. You might scan up from your toes to the top of your head. Does your belly feel tense? Is your heart beat steady? Is your breath shallow? Is there a feeling of constriction in your chest? Or expansion? What are your shoulders up to? You might have feelings that are slightly less specific - fast or slow, hot or cold, light or heavy. You might find that just tuning into your body provokes an emotional response in you. The name of the game here is ‘Notice’. Just notice.

  3. Ask yourself ‘what now?’. What happens now that you’ve noticed? Do you start to tell yourself stories about why you shouldn’t feel this? Does it provoke a secondary emotion in you? (eg. anger might provoke shame) Do you tend towards thinking about your emotions rather than feeling them?

  4. Once you’ve noticed, see if you can just focus on what you’re feeling. Orient towards your body and away from your mind. See how it feels to just be present with whatever it is you’re feeling.

  5. Offer yourself some physical nurturing: a self hug, a squeeze, taking both hands over your heart.

This practice is definitely worth returning to, whether you are on a journey to reconnect with your body, or to connect with it for the first time. The more you check in with yourself, the more information you gather, the more you can build capacity to sit with difficult emotions, and choose how to want to respond to them. Learning the language of emotion can allow you to experience the richness of life, the vibrancy of your emotional landscape, and the sweetness of your own birdsong.

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